Salmonella and salmonellosis

Salmonella is a type of bacteria normally found in the digestive tracts of animals and birds. Most often, salmonella is transmitted to people when they eat food or drink water that is contaminated with animal feces. Exotic pets such as snakes, turtles, and other reptiles can also be carriers and transmit the bacteria to people. The bacteria is also found in the environment. The foodborne illness caused by salmonella is called salmonellosis.

Salmonellosis is also commonly known as "food poisoning" or the "stomach flu." Salmonellosis can vary in severity from very mild to severe. Not everyone who is infected will have symptoms of salmonellosis, although anyone who is infected can spread the infection to other people.

Common symptoms of salmonellosis include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and nausea, and you will experience symptoms anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. Usually, these symptoms last for 4 to 7 days and most people recover without treatment. More severe cases can require antibiotic therapy or even hospitalization. Seniors, very young children, women who are pregnant, and people with weakened immune systems are more at risk of getting sick from salmonella, and they are more prone to complications of salmonellosis, such as dehydration or septicemia (where the bacteria is present in the blood).

Rarely, people infected with salmonella may develop a condition known as Reiter's syndrome, which is also known as reactive arthritis. Symptoms include joint pain, eye irritation, and painful urination. These symptoms usually appear 3 to 4 weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Most affected individuals experience a complete resolution of symptoms within 6 months and most people's symptoms will go away within 1 year. In some cases, this condition can progress to chronic arthritis.

On average, there are 6,500 reported cases of salmonellosis in Canada each year. Due to the wide range in severity of symptoms and the similarity of symptoms between salmonellosis and other illnesses, people are often unaware that they have been infected with salmonella. For this reason, the actual number of cases of salmonella infection is expected to be much higher than the number of cases reported.

Because many different illnesses can cause the same symptoms as salmonellosis, the only way to know for sure that it is a salmonella infection is to get a lab test of stool samples.

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